An upcoming theater show will weave pirates and tribal music into a Shakespearean classic.
This weekend, a group of undergraduates will put on a production of “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare at the Whitney Theater. The show, presented in collaboration with Yale’s Heritage Theater Ensemble, is the final project for students in THST 383A, a production seminar called “Actor and the Text” taught by theater studies professor Toni Dorfman, who is directing the production. The play tells the story of Prospero, a magic-wielding nobleman whose powers grant him control over the inhabitants of the island to which he has been cast away by his brother. Dorfman highlighted the themes of romance and forgiveness as central motifs, noting that the protagonist ultimately chooses to forgive his brother rather than punish him.
“The point of ‘The Tempest’ is the healing process, to choose virtue rather than vengeance,” said Dorfman.
The play’s storyline follows Prospero as he plots to have his daughter Miranda instated as the ruler of Milan — a position that his brother Antonio had wrongfully taken from him. As the play progresses, Miranda falls in love with and eventually marries Ferdinand, the son of the king of Naples, Alonso.
In deciding on a interpretation for this production, Dorfman said she was inspired by a mantra of School of Drama professor Ming Cho Lee.
“When you have a play that seems to have two different worlds in it — the realistic world and the enchanted world — the enchanted world needs to be a place that terrifies you,” Dorfman said. “If it isn’t, you’re patronizing the text.”
Dorfman said she decided to set the play on a magical island off the coast of Somalia, adding that while the text of the play has remained exactly the same as Shakespeare’s version, many of the production’s costumes, choreography and props have been influenced by Somali culture. Olivia Klevorn ’17, the show’s dramaturge, said that the many mariners in the play are analogous to the numerous tribal leaders currently vying for power in Somalia.
Stage manager Aviva Abusch ’18 added that the traditionally mystical, fairy-like spirits that Prospero controls are portrayed as villainous Somali pirates in the production. Dorfman noted that she decided to feature the theme of piracy in the production even though it is not present in the original text. Abusch said she thinks the production’s setting will allow the ensemble to interpret the play’s characters in a novel way.
Dorfman said that while the course and the production are connected, a majority of the rehearsals were conducted outside of class time. Alexi Sargeant ’15, who plays a jester named Trincula, added that students read parts of the novel “The Pirates of Somalia” by Jay Bahadur to prepare for this particular interpretation.
Students in the class highlighted the benefits of staging productions within the context of an academic course. One of the advantages of being part of a production seminar is the opportunity to work with faculty directors, said Eric Sirakian ’15, who plays Prospero in the show. He added that in-class discussions help to give each student a more holistic view of the play. Dorfman said that she avoids giving her actors rigid directions, adding that she prefers to have actors grow into their roles organically after rehearsing with a script for an extended period of time.
“I don’t believe in the puppet-master’s school of directing where you have everything planned out,” she said.
The last performance of “The Tempest” will take place on Saturday.
Correction: Nov. 12
A previous version of this article misspelled the name of the character Trincula, played by Alexi Sargeant ’15.